We must be held to a higher standard when it comes to the protection of the most vulnerable of all – children.
This weekend just passed I visited a dear friend of mine. Three weeks ago she and her husband welcomed their second child, precious baby Isabel, into the world. Given the age of Isabel’s parents, they had been told that she was a 1 in 100,000 chance of being conceived and born healthily which thankfully she was.
As I visited my friend Clair, she contemplated the mystery of Isabel’s life and the great place of the Divine in the being of the child she was now cradling in her arms. Here she was this innocent yet strong baby who held so much hope and promise for the future. As we spoke about how they were all coping and adjusting to having a newborn in the family, Clair paused and reflected on how blessed she was to have had her baby in a clean, well-resourced hospital, and to now have her in their home with all the needs and desires anyone could ever want for. She reflected on the contrast between her experience and the recent images that have reached us of mothers fleeing their homes in Syria with babies and children, of them walking long distances through the winter of the northern hemisphere often alone and not knowing where to next; of the women and children in Syria being deprived access to food and shelter, resorting to eating grass to feed their children and themselves. How could this be, women sharing the common experience of motherhood in such contrasting circumstances? Mothers trying to do the most basic of what they are called to: protecting their babe. For one, freedom and peace had provided a joyful and safe beginning to the life of her baby girl and for others, miles away, conflict and oppression mean there is only darkness and despair.
Fast forward three days to Wednesday and we find ourselves digesting the decision of the High Court declaring that offshore detention of asylum seekers is legal, thus meaning that 220 asylum seekers may be sent to Nauru, including up to 37 babies. The lives of these 37 children are of no less value than that of Isabel’s, born under the same sky, with just as much innocence and promise. We must be held to a higher standard when it comes to the protection of the most vulnerable of all – children. This treatment of children at the sanctioning of our government damages and tarnishes the innocence and vulnerability of all children. The human rights of children are non-negotiable. The rights belong to the human by the very nature of their humanity and cannot be alienated from her. The United Nations has responded to the Australian government’s current policy and treatment of asylum seekers, and children in particular, with the language usually reserved for harsh military regimes.
Despite the fact that the High Court has ruled that the government’s policy and treatment of asylum seekers is in keeping with what is legal, this case highlights that what is legal is not always what is moral and just. As baptised people called to follow the message and example of Jesus Christ we are called to act. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus teaches us to follow the Samaritan’s example and to respond to those in need with compassion and love, to put aside prejudice and recognise that our neighbour is anyone we encounter. The human condition makes this sometimes a difficult thing to do, but we cannot shy away from what is right only because it’s uncomfortable; we gain our strength in knowing that we are not alone. We are left at the end of this parable with the challenge to ‘go and do the same’: to live out God’s message of love.
And so we must engage in this dialogue of what is right and wrong to call on the leaders of our nation to rise to this moral imperative. To stand by and say or do nothing is to stand by and condone what is being sanctioned and to deny who we are as ‘seekers of truth and doers of justice.’
Ms Marina Ugonotti